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Bourbon joint on the rocks! LeNell’s to close…really

What the ’Nell is going on?
The owner of LeNell’s, a Van Brunt Street wine and spirits shop know for its selection of bourbons and its fountain, is considering a move to Manhattan when her lease is up.
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

LeNell’s, the Red Hook liquor store with more kick than downhome moonshine, will close on Feb. 21, but could possibly reopen near its Van Brunt Street location soon, its owner told The Brooklyn Paper.

The quirky five-year-old Red Hook store, run by LeNell Smothers, has been on the rocks since last May, when her lease expired, her ceiling collapsed and, finally, a relocation deal turned into sour mash.

The imminent closing — and hope of a new location — has Brooklyn bourbon buffs buzzing.

“For a long time, there was no place for the cocktail geeks of the world to go,” said Matt DeVriendt, co-owner of the Jakewalk, a bar with a sophisticated drinks menu on Smith Street. “[LeNell’s] is pretty much the only place to send them. She’s well connected with Kentucky bourbons, and her selection of bitters and knowledge is hard to match.”

Smothers made it almost as fun to shop for booze as it is to drink it. Almost.

“It’s just always been a passion of mine,” Smothers said when asked about her inspiration for a store focusing on independent distillers (especially those that put cats or dogs on their labels or are owned by women).

Her impending closure spurred rumors across the blogosphere that she was uprooting herself to tend bar in London or Amsterdam.

“Ugh, these bloggers can be incredibly irresponsible,” she said.

But for patrons who call the store, her updated message on the answering machine has a touch of her Southern charm, too.

“While we’re negotiating a new space, our business hours are a bit more sporadic. … We have lost our lease, we have not lost our hope.”

She said she’s searched for a new space in Red Hook, but liquor regulations complicate the process.

“I get this question a million times: ‘Why can’t you move into this space or that space.’ But it’s either too close to a school or the other liquor store [on Van Brunt Street] or the landlord doesn’t want to enter into a long-term lease.”

Still, Smothers agreed that the nosiness of bloggers, reporters and neighbors attested to the popularity and importance of her store.

“I am flattered for that, but I’m frustrated not having a secure new location to announce,” she said.

LeNell’s [416 Van Brunt St, between Coffey and Van Dyke streets, (718) 360-0838]. For now.

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